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Kim, Jaai
School of Urban and Environmental Engineering
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Response of a continuous anaerobic digester to temperature transitions: A critical range for restructuring the microbial community structure and function

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Response of a continuous anaerobic digester to temperature transitions: A critical range for restructuring the microbial community structure and function
Kim, JaaiLee, Changsoo
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WATER RESEARCH, v.89, no.1, pp.241 - 251
Temperature is a crucial factor that significantly influences the microbial activity and so the methanation performance of an anaerobic digestion (AD) process. Therefore, how to control the operating temperature for optimal activity of the microbes involved is a key to stable AD. This study examined the response of a continuous anaerobic reactor to a series of temperature shifts over a wide range of 35-65 °C using a dairy-processing byproduct as model wastewater. During the long-term experiment for approximately 16 months, the reactor was subjected to stepwise temperature increases by 5 °C at a fixed HRT of 15 days. The reactor showed stable performance within the temperature range of 35-45 °C, with the methane production rate and yield being maximum at 45 °C (18% and 26% greater, respectively, than at 35 °C). However, the subsequent increase to 50 °C induced a sudden performance deterioration with a complete cessation of methane recovery, indicating that the temperature range between 45 °C and 50 °C had a critical impact on the transition of the reactor's methanogenic activity from mesophilic to thermophilic. This serious process perturbation was associated with a severe restructuring of the reactor microbial community structure, particularly of methanogens, quantitatively as well as qualitatively. Once restored by interrupted feeding for about two months, the reactor maintained fairly stable performance under thermophilic conditions until it was upset again at 65 °C. Interestingly, in contrast to most previous reports, hydrogenotrophs largely dominated the methanogen community at mesophilic temperatures while acetotrophs emerged as a major group at thermophilic temperature. This implies that the primary methanogenesis route of the reactor shifted from hydrogen- to acetate-utilizing pathways with the temperature shifts from mesophilic to thermophilic temperatures. Our observations suggest that a mesophilic digester may not need to be cooled at up to 45 °C in case of undesired temperature rise, for example, by excessive self-heating, which offers a possibility to reduce operating costs.
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